Health & Science | WABE 90.1 FM

Health & Science

Science news

Emily Buss / University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill via AP

From the cacophony of day care to the buzz of TV and electronic toys, noise is more distracting to a child's brain than an adult's, and new research shows it can hinder how youngsters learn.

In fact, one of the worst offenders when a tot's trying to listen is other voices babbling in the background, researchers said at a recent meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

"What a child hears in a noisy environment is not what an adult hears," said Dr. Lori Leibold of Boys Town National Research Hospital in Omaha, Nebraska.

In this Jan. 27, 2016, file photo, an Aedes aegypti mosquito is photographed through a microscope at the Fiocruz institute in Recife, Pernambuco state, Brazil.
Felipe Dana, File / Associated Press

The World Health Organization says possible Zika vaccines are at least 18 months away from large-scale trials.

WHO assistant director-general for health systems and innovation Marie-Paule Kieny says the U.N. health agency's response is "proceeding very quickly" and 15 companies or groups have been identified as possible participants in the hunt for vaccines.

She told reporters in Geneva on Friday that WHO also believes the link between the mosquito-borne virus and abnormally small heads in some newborn children is "more and more probable."

Lisa Hagen / WABE

The news of gravitational waves rolled out across the globe this morning, but a group of students and faculty at Georgia Tech have been quietly savoring the discovery for months.

As David Reitze, executive director of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO), made the announcement at a press conference in Washington D.C., a packed watch party at Georgia Tech cheered.

Gravitational wave astrophysicist Deirdre Shoemaker helped lead the school's researchers. She said she was asleep the morning the wave came through.

 In this Sunday, June 1, 2014, file photo, the coal-fired Plant Scherer is photographed in Juliette, Ga.
John Amis, File / AP Photo

Georgia will stop its work toward implementing the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan.

Georgia is one of 27 states that had asked the U.S. Supreme Court to delay implementation of the plan. The court granted the stay Tuesday night.

The Clean Power Plan is a key piece of the Obama administration’s efforts to tackle climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. Under the rule, the EPA sets carbon reduction goals for each state. How to achieve those goals is left up to the states to decide for themselves.

In this Jan. 27, 2016, file photo, an Aedes aegypti mosquito is photographed through a microscope at the Fiocruz institute in Recife, Pernambuco state, Brazil.
Felipe Dana, File / Associated Press

The Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has elevated its emergency response to what it calls a Level 1 status, the highest level, to come up with a comprehensive response to the Zika virus outbreak.

'All Hands On Deck'

In this photo taken Tuesday, May 28, 2013, sprinklers watering coal ash landfill to limit dust, near the village of Usce, by the power plant Nikola Tesla, some 30 kilometers (19 miles) west of the Serbian capital Belgrade.
Darko Vojinovic / AP Photo

Officials in a southeast Georgia county are fighting a plan to bring coal ash to a landfill there. Coal ash is a byproduct from burning coal, and in the past several years, there have been big, expensive spills at coal ash storage facilities in Tennessee and North Carolina.

A private company that operates a landfill in Wayne County hopes to build a rail yard so that trains can carry coal ash there from power plants.

Ralph Hickox, a Wayne County commissioner, said he found out about the plan last month. 

In this Monday, Aug. 31, 2015 photo, a Coke truck delivers Coca Cola at the Farm Progress Show in Decatur, Ill.
Seth Perlman / Associated Press

It’s no secret that health care costs have been on the rise — employers and employees. That’s why the Atlanta-based Coca-Cola Company is banding together with 19 other major corporations to try to bring down health care costs.

Tevi Troy, CEO of the American Health Policy Institute, launched the Health Transformation Alliance, to which the companies now belong. He brought them together to find a way to reduce costs for their estimated 4 million employees. Troy says the companies all had various capabilities and lots of data, but lacked one key advantage to bringing down costs.

Gene Blythe / Associated Press

A bill proposed in the Georgia Senate seeks to exempt the state from the Obama administration’s major climate change rule. It’s the latest in the state’s varied responses to the Clean Power Plan.

The Clean Power Plan, finalized last year, requires states to cut greenhouse gas emissions by closing coal-fired power plants. Each state has an assigned goal for emissions reductions and is supposed to devise its own way of achieving it.

Andre Penner / AP Photo

The Georgia Department of Public Health has confirmed the first case of the Zika virus in the state and says the case is travel-related.

In a statement, health officials said the person traveled to Colombia in late December. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conducted the testing that confirmed the Zika virus was in the patient.

The Department of Public Health said the patient was not pregnant, but did not confirm the gender of the patient. The department did say he or she has made a full recovery from the virus.

Beth J. Harpaz / Associated Press

Climate change doesn't just affect habitats for wildlife. It's also affecting cats and dogs.

Fleas and ticks are getting smaller, but there are more of them; they eat more often, and they're causing problems in what used to be the colder months.

Heartworm is spread by mosquitoes, but those mosquitoes — which used to be found only in certain regions — are now carrying the disease all over the United States.

Brenna Beech / WABE

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter says that Guinea worm disease may soon be eradicated, which would be the most exciting accomplishment of his career, although progress is hampered by ongoing conflict in Mali and South Sudan.

Carter has led a campaign since 1986 through his foundation, the Carter Center, to rid the world of the once-widespread disease. With only 22 cases worldwide last year, they may now be on the cusp of wiping it out forever.

Carlye Calvin / ©UCAR

Georgia Power has laid out its energy production plan for the next three years.

The utility is asking the state Public Service Commission to approve its plan, kicking off a months-long review process.

Georgia Power is required to file an Integrated Resource Plan every three years, detailing its plan for the next two decades.

Undergraduates at Kennesaw State University's WellStar School of Nursing are entering a field in high demand in Cobb County and the region.
Courtesy of Kennesaw State University

The Atlanta area, like most of the state, is dealing with a shortage of registered nurses as many nurses get ready to retire.

While some hospitals are offering nurses large signing bonuses, Cobb County is trying a different approach. 

A Regional Need

Cobb County Chamber of Commerce's Workforce Development Manager Rob Garcia III said that, within a 20-mile radius of the city of Marietta, his group found a shortage of nearly 30,000 nurses. That number is expected to increase as baby boomers age and the region struggles to hire nurses.

John Raoux / AP Photo

Georgia could soon have its own space coast. Officials in Camden County, in the southeastern corner of the state, hope to build a commercial spaceport where companies could launch rockets. This is one of several spaceports either being proposed or already being built around the country as rural areas hope to cash in on the private space race.

‘Opportunity To Make History’

Camden County administrator and lead Spaceport Camden booster Steve Howard says whenever he presents the idea to an audience, he always starts off with a question:

A proposed logging plan in the Chattahoochee National Forest is drawing criticism from environmental groups. The proposal is to log about 1,600 acres and burn nearly 12,000 in an area between Ellijay and Helen in North Georgia.

The intent of the plan, according to U.S. Forest Service ranger Andy Baker, is to restore forests that have become unnaturally overgrown.  

“It's a combination of prescribed burning and commercial and non-commercial harvest operations that produce healthier forest conditions, more resiliency of the forest,” Baker said.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, NOAA Research Permit # 594-1759 /

The protected habitat for North Atlantic right whales, an endangered species that spends time off the coast of Georgia, will expand by more than six times its current area. The areas designated as critical habitat include feeding grounds in the Northeast and calving grounds in the Southeast.

The decision, made by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, comes at the same time as the federal government is also considering allowing offshore oil and gas exploration in the Atlantic.

When the weather forecast says "winter storm watch," it can be hard to know whether to expect another "Snowpocalypse," an ice storm or just a spate of cold rain. 

The Ready Georgia campaign with the Georgia Emergency Management Agency/Homeland Security advises that Georgians prepare for the inconveniences of a serious winter storm no matter what, because that "winter storm watch" could morph into a dangerous weather event.


Alice Keyes faced a wall of grassy salt marsh and clapped her hands. She was trying to get a response from clapper rails -- seldom-seen, fat-footed marsh birds.

“When you clap it agitates them and they’ll usually call back,” Keyes said. “But apparently we’re not close enough to them right now.”

She stood on the edge of the St. Marys River, in the very far southeastern corner of Georgia. It’s a classic Georgia coast setting: calm, quiet water with occasional small boats going by. Birds flickered in and out of the otherwise still marsh.

The new AMI transmitter assembly will be applied to new water meters that are equipped to call in their own readings.
Dekalb County Department of Watershed Management

Over the past few years, DeKalb County residents have complained that their water bills were too high and sometimes inaccurate. The county is now installing new technology on its water meters to fix the problem.

Last fall, a Brookhaven homeowners’ association got a water bill for close to $800,000. Dekalb County later reissued the bill for the correct amount of nine dollars.

Bob Edme / Associated Press

The amount of man-made heat energy absorbed by the seas has doubled since 1997, a study released Monday showed.

Smoking on college campuses has lessened thanks to tobacco-free campaigns across Georgia and the country.
Carolyn Kaster, File / Associated Press

Even though fewer U.S. teens are smoking, secondhand smoke remains a big problem for them, a government study found.

Nearly half of nonsmoking kids in middle school and high school encountered secondhand tobacco smoke in 2013, and rates were even higher among smokers.

Earlier studies on teens and secondhand smoke in specific places, such as cars or indoors, indicate that the problem has declined in recent years but the new research suggests it's still affecting millions of kids.

Robert Occhialini /

Cancer deaths are falling in the U.S., but the disease remains a major threat.

Nearly 2 million Americans will be diagnosed with cancer and close to 600,000 will die from the disease in 2016.

That's according to the report released Thursday by the Atlanta-based American Cancer Society.

And although researchers say the cancer death rate has dropped 23 percent since 1991, it is the top cause of death in 21 states.

Cancer is becoming the No. 1 killer in more and more states as deaths from heart disease have declined, new health statistics show.

Nationwide, heart disease is still the leading cause of death, just ahead of cancer. While death rates for both have been falling for nearly 25 years, heart disease has dropped at a steeper rate.

As a result, cancer moved up to the top slot in 22 states in 2014, according to the latest government figures.

It's also the leading cause of death in certain groups of people, including Hispanics, Asians, and adults ages 40 to 79.

Thomson200 / Wikimedia Commons

Paulding County currently does not have its own water supply, but that could change sooner than expected.

The Georgia Environmental Finance Authority (GEFA) recently announced that it is giving $15 million to Paulding County for a 13-mile pipeline that will connect the future Richland Creek Reservoir to customers.

An astrophysicist has discovered something even rarer than a double-black hole galaxy: a skinny black hole.

The University of Colorado's Julie Comerford reported her findings Tuesday at the American Astronomical Society's annual meeting in Kissimmee, Florida.

Comerford says only 12 galaxies are known to exist with two black holes in their midst. Normally galaxies have a single supermassive black hole at the center.

James Gathany / CDC, Wikimedia Commons

The Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is investigating a case of Zika virus detected in Puerto Rico. The virus, which originated in Uganda, is transmitted by mosquitos. It has since turned up in Asia and South America, and the CDC believes this could be the first case of someone catching the virus in the United States or its territories.

Most people who get the virus will not get any symptoms, according to Erin Staples, a medical epidemiologist at the CDC. Of the one-in-five people who do, the symptoms are typically mild.

John Raoux / Associated Press

This story has been updated to reflect a new deadline.

The Federal Aviation Administration is studying a proposal for a private spaceport on the Georgia coast. The Camden County Spaceport would be a facility where companies like SpaceX could launch rockets.

One of the first steps in the permitting process is an environmental review. The deadline for the public to submit questions about the impact of the project is Jan. 18.

 In this Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2007 file photo, Lauren Fant, left, winces as she has her third and final application of the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine administered by nurse Stephanie Pearson at a doctor's office in Marietta, Ga. Protecting girls from
John Amis, File / Associated Press

Many pediatricians and family doctors are not strongly recommending the cancer-preventing HPV vaccine to preteens and their parents, contributing to low vaccination rates, a survey of nearly 600 doctors suggests.

The vaccine protects against the human papillomavirus, which is spread through sex and can cause several kinds of cancer, including cervical cancer. The government wants girls and boys to get it at age 11 or 12 because it works best if kids get it before they become sexually active.

Greg Allen / Invision/AP

In this installment of "Valerie Jackson in Conversation," we speak with best-selling author and physician Dr. Deepak Chopra and Harvard Medical School professor Dr. Rudolph Tanzi, one of the foremost experts on the brain.

Chopra and Tanzi have combined forces to share new understandings in their fields of science and medicine with their books "Super Brain" and, most recently, "Super Genes."

Jeff Chiu, File / Associated Press

WABE's news reporters, producers and editors are already looking toward 2016.

"Morning Edition" host Denis O'Hayer says he is curious about Obamacare and what the state of Georgia will decide to do about Medicaid:

"Part of the dispute is whether the state would expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, and Gov. Deal has said, 'no no no.' There have been rumblings for a long time that the state would try to negotiate some sort of third way with the feds, something between 'absolutely no' and 'we're going to expand Medicaid.'"